Sharks at the end of the line?

Sharks at the end of the line?

Tracy&James | Thursday, 18 May 2017

I hope Peter Morse doesn’t mind, but I thought I’d borrow a Facebook posting of his to discuss here. Peter highlighted a problem with sharks around some prime sports fishing locations in Australia and suggested that perhaps, due to their numbers being out of hand, they should be subject to a cull. Facebook being Facebook, this comment prompted a highly emotive and polarised response ranging from “fin them all” through to “it’s the human population that needs culling”!

Now I haven’t any knowledge of the Australian sport fishing scene, nor am I an ecologist, so I’ve not got any answers to give here, only more questions to be considered.  Peter did post some film of large congregations of big sharks around a fishing boat and other, equally respected, guides confirmed that the problem was widespread and that landing their target species was becoming increasingly difficult in the affected areas.

Those that have read my previous FPs will know I have a soft spot for shark fly fishing, I’ve a long standing ambition to catch a 100 plus pounder whilst wading the flats – I intend to land this and unhook it when the opportunity arises (I had shots on our trip just gone but the bigger sharks were incredibly skittish, I did hook up with one in the 50 – 60lb class but it spat the fly on its first run.  The previous year Tracy hooked a definite 100lb plus fish, this produced the longest run against the full drag of a Nautilus reel that I’ve personally witnessed, but again that fish was lost).  This penchant for catching shark on the fly brings me to my first point – there seems to be a ranking of sport fish species and sharks do not appear to be very high up on the list.

I find this ranking to be interesting – most of us are fishing with the intention of releasing the fish afterwards, so the ‘value’ of particular species certainly isn’t in the eating qualities of its flesh or its market price.  Perhaps then the order is determined by the fighting characteristics?  However if this was the case then sharks would be revered, but then perhaps they fight too hard – who wants to be fighting a fish for an hour plus especially on a shared boat?  Is it the perceived difficulty of getting a fish to take a fly that makes a permit more worthy than a bonefish?  Or a tarpon a better catch than a redfish?  Is the jack crevalle’s willingness to smash a popper costing it places in the league table? If this was the case then surely the mullet (or similar fly-ignoring species) would be the shining pinnacle of sports fly fishing? (Similarly, the grey snapper that Tracy caught would be the best fish of our trip).  So I don’t know how the ‘ranking’ is determined, but it’s definitely there - even if it is hidden away in the sub-conscious.

Not having seen the shark problem first hand I’ve been thinking of some ‘closer to home’ issues.  (Tracy has promised to take me to Australia for my next ‘big’ birthday.  I think this is, in part, guilt for taking me to Rutland Water for the last one when I took her to Christmas Island!).  An obvious analogy is the appearance of cormorants on trout rivers.  Because I don’t ‘rank’ cormorants as a target species, I’m in favour of culling them to protect the fishing.  But at the same time I have a feeling of unease regarding my point of view.  Incidentally, I’m not sure Tracy would agree with me about not considering them a ‘target’ species – she seems to have a penchant for bringing down birds with fly tackle .

My unease arises from a feeling that the cormorants are on the river because of problems elsewhere.  All animals are genetically programmed to ensure the survival of their species, and that says to me that changes in behaviour are driven by a desire to flourish – if that becomes impossible in the sea then they’ll look elsewhere.  After all, rivers full of trout have been around for tens of thousands of years, as have sea faring birds.  Yet it is only a relatively recent observation that large numbers of cormorants are feeding inland.  I believe the current consensus of opinion is that this is a result of mankind’s over-fishing of their traditional feeding grounds.

So that leads me to a question about the sharks – are they flourishing, expanding their territories due to massively increased numbers or are they actually in trouble as a species?

Like I said, no answers – only more questions.

What I do know is that Tracy and I will not be bothering any fish on Sunday as we’ll be at the BFCC event in Willesborough, Kent.  I’m already preparing my excuses for not casting well – lack of practice, too cold, lack of the 30+kmph wind that I’ve got used to in the Bahamas etc.

All the best, James.